The big news in the region is the recent announcement by SBI Holdings that it has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Saudi Arabian Aramco, one of the leading energy and Chemicals Company, after SBI Holding established a digital asset venture in UAE with Standard Chartered.

The signing was between SBI Holding, Chairman, President and CEO, Yoshitaka Kitao; and Aramco’s President and Chief Executive Officer: Amin H. Nasser.

As per the press release, based on the MOU, SBI Holdings and Aramco will consider a business alliance in the areas of collaboration in the field of digital assets and co-investments leveraging both parties’ investment portfolios related to digital assets, as well as identifying Japanese startups in the digital asset field which have interests in expanding their business in Saudi Arabia and supporting their entry and growth.

It also includes launching various specific projects related to investments in the semiconductor field, including establishment of factories in both Japan and Saudi Arabia.

The scope of the alliance may be expanded upon agreement between the Company and Aramco.

SBI Holdings has been promoting the establishment of investment funds with local partners in the Middle East, as well as the construction of semiconductor factories in Japan, through a partnership with Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation. SBI Holdings recently announced a partnership with Standard Chartered to launch a $100 million Fund in the UAE to also establish a digital asset joint venture.

Through this partnership with Aramco, the parties will, together, leverage their mutual knowledge and resources to discuss further business opportunities in advanced technology fields, such as semiconductors, digital assets, etc. and contribute to economic cooperation between Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the SBI Group plans to establish “SBI Middle East” in Riyadh as a base of operations for conducting business in the Middle East, and is working towards further expanding its businesses in the region.

Saudi Aramco has made prior investments into Blockchain startups, including Data Gumbo, IR4Labs, VAKT, and others.

While Sanabil, the $3 billion fund owned by the government’s Public Investment Fund, is an indirect crypto investor. It mainly invests in other funds, with half its assets in venture capital (VC). They include commitments to crypto-focused Haun and Blockchain Capital as well as several other VCs with major crypto portfolios such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue and Tiger Global.

However this news on SBI Holding agreement with Aramco and its relation to the semi conductor business is significant given that recently USA forced Saudi backed fund Prosperity7 from investing in Sam Altman’s AI startup Open AI.  Prosperity7 has already invested as well in Blockchain, with Red Date Tech.

Saudi Aramco has signed a memorandum of agreement with Data Gumbo, a US based Blockchain technology company which developed a blockchain as a service platform to streamline smart contracts management for industrial customers. The agreement between Saudi Aramco and Data Gumbo is for Blockchain collaboration over a three year term.

This is not the first time Saudi Aramco has dealt with Data Gumbo. In August 2022, Saudi Aramco’s investment arm Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures made its fourth investment in Data Gumbo series C round where Data Gumbo raised $4million. The round was led by Saudi Aramco Ventures and Equinor, Norway’s energy operator.

As per the Data Gumbo blog post, “ Data Gumbo is proud to announce that on 8 February, 2023 we entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Saudi Aramco for Blockchain Collaboration.  The agreement has a 3 year term. We are honored by the opportunity to deepen our collaboration and look forward to several transformational projects in the coming years.”

The MOU was signed by Mohamed Marzouk, Saudi Arabia Country Manager and Saudi Aramco’s Senior Vice President, Digital and Information Technology Mr. Nabil Al-Nuaim in Riyadh.

As per the agreement the Areas of collaboration will include, accelerating digital transformation within the Oil & Gas Industry, exploring,  identifying and co-innovating blockchain use, improving operational efficiency and driving ROIU with Aramco, its customers and suppliers, providing blockchain training and finally identifying potential applications for managed blockchain services

For the fourth time since 2019, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco has participated in an investment round in Data Gumbo, the blockchain enabled smart contract provider. This time Data Gumbo raised 4 million USD in its Series C round led by Saudi Aramco Ventures and Equinor, Norway’s energy operator.

In 2019, Data Gumbo the Houston based blockchain Technology Company which had developed a Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform to streamline smart contracts management for industrial customers, completed a 6 million USD Series A equity funding round co-led by Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, and Equinor.

Then in 2020, Data Gumbo, closed its Series B funding round of 4 million USD led by new investor L37, a Bay Area and Houston-based venture capital company, with Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures as a participant in the round.

In 2021 once more Data Gumbo closed a Series B funding round totaling 7.7 million USD with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures, and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures.

So far, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures has been one of the consistent investors in Data Gumbo. So it was no surprise to once again see Saudi Aramco invest in Data Gumbo’s Series C round, and be a lead investor as well. Saudi Aramco given the amount of investments raised to date by Data Gumbo, has definitely invested millions into the startup.

This funding round follows a year of impressive growth for Data Gumbo, which has introduced the first ever Smart Contract Marketplace with forty smart contract templates ready to be deployed for immediate reduction in transactional friction and grown to over 180 enterprises participating in Data Gumbo’s smart contract network.

Data Gumbo also opened its offices in KSA in 2022. At the time Data Gumbo stated that it was establishing a local presence to take advantage of the regional business opportunities ripe for smart contract network adoption.

Commenting on the recent fund raising, William Fox, CEO of Data Gumbo stated, “We have continued to lead the way in the adoption of smart contracts for industrial use. The partnership with Equinor and Saudi Aramco, and their associated supply chains and partnerships, will continue the momentum for the Data Gumbo’s smart contract network.”

By tapping into existing IIoT data sources to trigger confirmation and payment automation of contractual commercial terms, organizations are able to eliminate the time-consuming process of validating invoices and transactions and fully automating the procure-to-pay and order-to-cash processes. 

Data Gumbo plans to expand its reach, helping any organization who captures field data today to streamline their back office processes and realize time and cost savings.

“While we started in energy, we already have value for bulk commodity haulage, trucking and shipping, with plans to parlay our momentum into other global industries,” commented Andrew Bruce, Founder of Data Gumbo. “Wherever two or more organizations share a contractual relationship that can be verified with a digital source of data, opportunities abound to realize efficiencies and cost savings utilizing our blockchain network.”

Frank Andrasco, Senior Investment Director, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures stated, “Distributed ledger technologies bring win-win efficiencies between industrial companies and their suppliers, and Data Gumbo is at the forefront of introducing this innovation. While they have started in the energy sector, Data Gumbo’s platform has broad industrial applicability.”

To date Saudi Aramco’s Venture arm has participated in all the investment rounds of Data Gumbo, which  has raised a total of close to 21 million USD. One thing known for sure is that Saudi Aramco is backing the Blockchain smart contract service provider, and much more will be seen in the future.